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A Former Flight Attendant Shares The Procedure To Best Survive A Plane Crash

In the event of a disaster, you control your own fate far more than you realize.

An airline crashes, as unlikely as they are, occupy a huge amount of mind space in both air travelers and those who are actually rendered too scared to fly. Much of this irrational fear results from a feeling of helplessness – that once things go south on a plane, there’s nothing that can be done but sit idly by waiting for your fate.

While this is true more so than it might be in a car or on a bike, the truth is that many steps can be taken to ensure survival both before and after a crash. Former flight attendant Cheryl A Schwartz took to crowdsourcing forum Quora to share her experience to set people straight on what passengers can do to maximize their chance of survival on a plane.

While the eight points she breaks down all have individual merit, if there’s one more general takeaway, it’s to prepare to survive the impact. Passengers are often correct that aside from bracing for impact and sheltering themselves from airborne objects, the impact is out of their hands. However, once impact occurs, it’s imperative to put yourself in a position to find safety as quickly as possible.

Here is her eight-point plan for survival:

KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. I don’t care if you have flown in 747s for decades, they are NOT all the same. Each time you take your seat you must count the number of rows between your seat and the nearest exits in front of you and behind you on the left and the right.

KNOW HOW TO OPEN THE EXITS. The safety cards show you how to open the doors and whether or not you need to take an extra step to deploy the slide. Know how to open the windows over the wing and how to get out.

KNOW HOW TO PICK THE BEST BRACE POSITION. If you have a seat in front of you, cross your hands on that seat back in front of you and rest your forehead on top of your crossed hands. You are going to flail around during a crash, but with your head supported in front of you your flailing distance is lessened and you have less chance of head and neck whiplash injuries. If there is no seat in front of you, bend over as far as you can and grab your legs behind your knees. Of course you will keep your seat belt tight, tight, tight.

PROTECT FROM FALLING LUGGAGE. Protect your head, neck, and back with a blanket, jacket, coat or whatever you have to dampen the blow of overhead baggage flying out and down upon you and the ceiling falling apart.

KEEP CARRY ON LUGGAGE UNDER SEAT IN FRONT OF YOU. If your bag is under the seat in front of you, that will be one less bag crashing down on you. More important, the luggage under the seat in front of you will act as a barrier for your feet and legs and will keep you from submarining out from under your seat belt and sliding into the space under the seat in front of you where your legs, feet, and ankles will be broken. Your broken body can’t escape.

KEEP YOUR COMPUTER AND CARRY-ON AT YOUR SEAT. TRYING TO EVACUATE WITH THOSE ITEMS MAY COST YOU YOUR LIFE. Stuff can be replaced — you can’t convince me that anything you own is more important than getting your life saved. If I see you trying to come down the aisle with a computer I’ll rip it out of your hands. If another passenger is trying to evacuate and is blocked by your computer he’ll rip it out of your hands. We have 90 seconds to evacuate 600 passengers or 30 passengers. We have trained and know how to do it, and your carry-on doesn’t fit into the mix. Get your body out of your seat, head to the closest exit that is available (not all of the ones you chose before you took off may be available—might be fire at one, might be underwater at another, might be full of crushed seats at another—but a hole in the fuselage may have opened up and that now counts as an exit) and get out. Help others if you can. Then run away and keep running far away from the aircraft in case of explosion.

SURVIVABLE CRASH WITH DEAD PASSENGERS STILL BUCKLED IN SEATS. Most crashes are survivable. Yet, with survivable crashes, crash scene investigators find passengers without a scratch on them still belted in their seats, dead. Sometimes the passenger was just waiting for someone to individually tell them to unbuckle his seat belt and get out or they had no idea what to do. This is why knowing what to do before you take off is necessary. Or perhaps the dead passengers experienced negative panic and just froze in their seats. We are trained to re-enter a crashed airplane to rescue passengers like this. The first officer also goes through the plane looking for passengers. But if there is fire and the smoke has become so thick making re-entry impossible, then we can’t save the ones who remain in their streets. HORRIBLE.


The “HAVE A NICE FLIGHT” leads me to believe that old habits die hard for retired flight attendants. But there’s weight to what she’s saying, and while these things might read as obvious, the concept of “obvious” might change drastically during an emergency, so the more these steps are drilled into your head, the more you’ll draw on them subconsciously. This is the very reason you’re urged to read the safety procedures and endure the pre-flight presentation for the millionth time.

As regards #6, if you are lucky enough to survive an incident, yet delay your exit to grab luggage, you also expose yourself to intentional harm from fellow passengers. Earlier this year, people were filmed grabbing luggage during an emergency evacuation and it’s...infuriating. This delays the process and puts lives in very real danger.

Drill these into your head not just for your own sake, but the sake of everyone waiting on your to evacuate the plane as well.

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